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St Patrick's Place in Cumbria

The Myths, Legends, and History of St Patrick

St Patrick's day has been celebrated globally every year on the 17th of March since the 5th century to mark St Patrick's death.

But who was St Patrick and what is the true history behind this patron St of Ireland?

To mark the more colloquially known "St Paddy’s Day" we uncover the myths and legends that surround him, the day itself, and the history of how it became one of the biggest observed festivals around the world.

We also look at how the North West became a cultural melting pot for Irish migrants and St Patrick’s place in Cumbria.

So who exactly was St Patrick?

Well contrary to popular belief, St Patrick was born in Roman Britain 386 AD, in what is now modern-day Ravenglass in Cumbria. Although this doesn’t mean he was British.

During the time of his birth, Britain was under Roman occupation and it’s unknown whether his family were Romans or indigenous Celtic.

The coastal hamlet of Ravenglass in Cumbria photo credit: Visit Cumbria

But it’s not just his birthplace that’s a topic of debate, his name is also. When Patrick wrote the last known documents credited to him he wrote in Latin and signed his name “Patricius” and some scholars detail that he was born Maewyn Succat.

Cambridge University found from Patrick’s own account that it was Irish raiders who brought him to Ireland at the age of 16 where he was enslaved and held captive for six years.

Patrick later escaped to England where he received religious instructions. St Patrick returned to Ireland to serve as a missionary and is widely credited for bringing Christianity to its people.

Saint Patrick was an enslaved worker in Ireland for six years

Although these claims are disputed in the two St Patrick’s theories. In 431 AD before Patrick began preaching in Ireland Pope Celestine had sent a bishop missionary known as Palladius to Ireland before Patrick and many had been converted to Christianity by him. St Patrick was both a mixture of Palladius and the enslaved Patrick we all know.

St Palladius

St Patrick was honoured as a saint by many in Ireland between the 9th and 10th centuries, despite this he was never formally canonised (officially declared a saint). It took until the early 17th century on the 17th of March the day of St Patrick's death that he was added to a Catholic book of prayers as the Feast of St Patrick.

When was St Patrick's day first celebrated?

The first-ever St Patrick's day parade was held in what we now know as modern-day Florida and not in Ireland. It was held on the 17th of March in 1601 by Spanish colonial Irish vicar Ricardo Artur.

Saint Patrick’s Day parade in St Augustine Florida (2020) photo credit: Visit St Augustine

A century on, homesick Irish soldiers that were serving in the English military marched in New York City on the same day to honour St Paddy. New York and Boston now have the highest population of Irish immigrants in the world and have continued to celebrate the parade ever since its invention. The festival has grown more and more throughout North America ever since.

In the late 19th century New York Irish Aid societies pulled together their parades to form the world’s oldest civilian parade, St Patricks Day.

Why do they wear green on St Patrick's day?

The people in these Irish societies often wore the colour green to represent their community and the association of green then became synonymous with the day. New York’s parade attracts over 3 million people around the world and takes over five hours to complete.

In Chicago to celebrate St Patrick's day they turn the famous Chi-town river green each year.

Chicago River Green dyed green by the Rowan family each St Patricks Day Photo Credit: CNN

In Ireland, it took until 1903 to be declared an official public holiday and by 1931 Ireland's capital Dublin threw their first St Patrick’s day parade.

The Man, The Myth the Legend:

There is much myth and legend surrounding what St Patrick is acclaimed to have done. Here is some of the most interesting folklore surrounding the Saint.

It is believed that St Patrick used a shamrock sprig to teach the people of Ireland about Christianity’s Holy Trinity; The father, the sun, and the holy spirit. Religious works of art based on St Patrick usually depict him holding a cross in one hand and a sprig of shamrock in the other.

St Patrick holding a shamrock in his left hand and cross-staff in the other

Legend has it that Patrick banished all snakes from Ireland. Apparently, Patrick was stood on a hillside and delivered a sermon that drove the island's snakes into the sea. While it’s true Ireland is free of snakes this has been the case throughout history.

Water has surrounded Ireland since the last glacial period and the country would’ve been blanketed in Ice. This would’ve prevented the cold-blooded reptiles from ever living there. Some scholars believe the story is symbolic of Patrick's eradication of pagan ideology.

St Patrick depicted drawing out snakes in Ireland Photo Credit: National Geographic

During St Patrick's days as a missionary, he’s understood to have carried an ash wood walking stick. He used the stick as a prop when evangelizing in modern-day Aspatria in Cumbria. People took so long to learn about the evangelic teachings that it’s believed his stick actually grew into an ash tree.

St Patrick's holly well in Aspatria a place whose name combines those of both saint and tree Photo Credit: Alan Cleaver

How the North West became a cultural melting pot for Irish immigrants

Historically, Westmorland now known as South Cumbria during the industrial era had the biggest intake of Irish immigrants than that of southern counties. West Cumberland, now what we know as West Cumbria had one of the biggest northern intakes of Irish immigrants.

Cottonopolis, Modern day Manchester was at the heart of Britain’s industrial era and the promise of work attracted thousands of poor Irish families from the late 18th century.

The Irish population in Manchester in the 1790s was around 5,000 with most coming from Ulster and they were encouraged to transfer their skills to the North West where there was a shortage of people with weaving skills needed for the cotton trade.

Today Manchester has the third biggest Irish population in the UK with Birmingham being the highest.

Illustration of a Manchester cotton mill in Summerseat, Bury photo credit: Manchester local image collection

During the potato famine in 1845 over 300,000 refugees that were destitute went to Liverpool and doubled the city’s population.

Unfortunately, they missed out on a future free of starvation and poverty because of the new Poor Law Removal Act which saw 15,000 of these Irish refugees be deported back to Ireland in 1847.

Despite this Liverpool held the highest Irish diaspora in the city back in the 19th century.

Many Irish refugees in Liverpool lived in conditions like this

Some of the biggest St Patrick’s day parades are held in North West cities such as Liverpool and Manchester because of this.

St Patrick's Day Parade through Liverpool city centre photo credit: Andrew Teebay

Did you learn something new about St Patrick's day in this article? Let us know in the comments down below!


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